Arne Duncan is the new education guy. In my reading up on him, he sounded neither super great nor overtly evil. He seemed a little in the middle. Every damn news article was sure to mention the basketball thing (he played professional basketball in Australia for a while after college, and these days plays pick-up games with Obama), and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools thing (always adding that his is the third-largest district in the U.S.).
Duncan is big on teacher accountability and on shutting down schools that aren’t getting the job done. He supports the facets of NCLB that aim to improve teacher and school accountability and the gathering of data that show how well the students are learning/being taught. I’m with him—for the most part—on that stuff. I’m also in agreement with Mr. Duncan that the NCLB act is too rigid and that one single set of rules doesn’t work well for every school in the country. Duncan wants to improve schools, but he sees that the NCLB—as it’s written now—isn’t conducive to that end.
It makes me happy that the new Secretary of Education was pissed about the NCLB act way back in 2003. If that weren’t enough to make me a believer, two blog posts I read about him tipped the scales for me. I’m only going to link to one, because I’m not (wo)man enough to deal with finding a burning cross on my front lawn should I anger this particular blogger. You can look for the post yourself; just Google these two magic phrasings: “Education Secretary Arne Duncan” and “Exposing Liberal Lies.” It’ll come right up. Good luck. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel while excavating the blog so I turned back.
The blogger in question, who also wrote an entire post about the erroneousness of global warming, dislikes Duncan because he spoke out in support of creating a gay, lesbian, bi and transgender-friendly high school. Duncan felt that these students needed some extra support, especially in light of the fact that teens dealing with sexuality questions and issues have disproportionately large numbers of drop-outs, homeless and runaways.
Knowing that Arne Duncan put his neck out there to support kids who are unpopular at school, at home, and with most of the religious right in this country made me want to sit in his corner. Only someone who was truly interested in the welfare and education of students in his district would support something that would make him popular only with the kids in question. It was ballsy and kind, which I will always support.
And since it’s not enough to support a gutsy nice guy just because he wants to alter the NCLB act and is not well-loved by people who don’t believe in hard science, I also needed this to tip the scales completely in his favor: Steven D. Levitt from Freakonomics had wonderful things to say about his firsthand experience with Arne Duncan:
Freakonomics readers will remember Arne as the hero of our chapter on teacher cheating. He was head of the Chicago Public Schools when Brian Jacob and I were investigating how teachers and administrators were doctoring standardized test sheets.
With seemingly nothing to gain and much to lose, Arne embraced our results, even allowing us to do audit testing to confirm our hypotheses. Eventually, a handful of teachers were fired.
Since then, I’ve interacted with Arne a few times, and in a variety of settings. I always walk away dazzled. He is smart as hell and his commitment to the kids is remarkable. If you wanted to start from scratch and build a public servant, Arne would be the end product.